The Kitchen Dwellers take in a wide swath of musical traditions and build upon Bluegrass traditions to interpret, adapt, and in some case, arrange them in new and surprising ways. Their music feels continually unexpected, and the spirit of experimentation is something that drives them, particularly on their latest 2019 album, Muir Maid, and in the music they are working on right now.
Faced with the stay-at-home aspect of the pandemic, The Kitchen Dwellers dove quickly into the livestream format as yet another mode of experimentation, and that in turn led them to a great deal more exploration in cover work from interacting with fans online. Building on their previous EP release Reheated Volume 1, which featured songs by The Band brought to new life, The Kitchen Dwellers tackled an even more ambitious project in 2020 with the EP Reheated Volume 2, featuring the work of Pink Floyd.
All of this and more is likely to be part of their big livestream concert from Missoula, Montana’s famous venue, The Wilma, happening on Saturday February 27th. That concert will replicate their usual live shows in having two full sets of 90 minutes each, and given their recent livestream concerts, is likely to be extremely lively, capturing their usual driving pace in terms of performance. We spoke to guitarist Max Davies ahead of the concert about the band’s history, how they’ve been spending their time, and what we’ll encounter with their big concert from The Wilma this weekend.
Americana Highways: I’m not totally surprised that you all are doing a big livestream concert because you’ve been so involved in livestreaming over the past year. How soon in the pandemic did the band decide to try playing online?
Max Davies: Right when things closed up, we hit it super hard. It was really just us working with our management team, who got on the ball really quickly. Everything was so new and the idea was exciting. We try not to say “no” to new ideas, as a band. We were early adopters of the online thing. We did these total request livestreams on Facebook. People would request songs all day long, and that night, we’d go online and we’d play ten songs that we’d learned that day. It was really fun. We spent a lot of energy on that, and we did some Zoom concerts and socially distanced shows. This is us getting back to it, and this event is new in a way, since there will be a lot of cameras. At the Wilma, this will be a step above what we’ve been doing, really.
AH: Do you think doing those other livestreams kept you warmed up for a big concert?
MD: Yes, I think so. We haven’t really slowed down playing much. The wheels are never going to be as greased as they would be on a normal tour, but sometimes shaking things up gives you a new perspective. That’s kind of cool, because we’re playing some new covers, and we’ve been working on some new material for a new album. We’re sort of in the groove of playing a lot right now, which is nice. We’re feeling pretty good.
AH: I can’t believe you were taking requests on Facebook and learning them that day to play that night! Did that influence the creation of your EP with Reheated Vol. 2, featuring Pink Floyd music?
MD: We had already recorded it around that time, but those things definitely go hand-in-hand with learning someone else’s music and putting a spin on it. Also, having to learn it in kind of a timely fashion. When we were trying to figure out what to do for Reheated, we had so many ideas, and I’m sure that some of those ideas showed up in the TRL (“Total Request Live”) shows. We have a lot of different influences, so people would request Punk songs, or No Doubt, or Jimmy Buffet.
AH: Were they trying to suggest stuff that was out there for you, or were they trying to suggest stuff that they knew you liked?
MD: I think a little bit of both. We saw some covers come up that we had done before, but also people know some of the genres they might expect to hear at one of our shows, so were going on that. But because it was TRL, there were a lot of 90s requests like Pearl Jam and stuff like that.
AH: When it comes to the EP, what made you settle on Pink Floyd music?
MD: We did an EP before, called Reheated, which is a play on our band’s name and rehashing something that had been done before. The first EP had songs from The Band. Each one that we do, we want to come away having learned something. With The Band, they are such great songwriters and singers that we learned a lot from that. Then, coming up with the second one, we really liked the idea of Pink Floyd because they really have nothing to do with Bluegrass music, but we like to experiment with weird sounds and noises. Narrowing down which songs was difficult, but we settled on a few that we thought would translate well from their Rock exploratory sound into Bluegrass.
Bands doing EPs is now going to be more common. You don’t necessarily need to go and record a whole album, and the format for people to digest music is changing rapidly. A lot of times recently I’ve seen bands just releasing one song.
AH: True. There has been a huge explosion of EP releases over recent months. With the digital format, they become very easy to release, even if other things in the world are unstable.
MD: People can record and release immediately, which is cool.
AH: Your most recent album, Muir Maid, has a lot of energy to it, and themes of nature, the outdoors, and travel. Looking at the album now, it feels like you captured that moment of movement and expansiveness before the world shut down. Are you glad you captured that when you did?
MD: Yes, I think the album was probably the product of us driving around the country non-stop for a few years at that point. It came out in a lot of those songs. Now, looking back, it’s clear that we wouldn’t produce that same music right now.
AH: Now it feels like those experiences were perfectly preserved.
MD: That’s awesome.
AH: Can you tease anything about your plans for the Wilma show and how you chose the music for the two different sets?
MD: Definitely. We are all very excited to be playing at The Wilma. The Wilma has been recently renovated and is one of the most beautiful venues in the country. We want to approach it as a real show. We want people to feel like they are at an actual show. Coming up with the setlist, people may hear some songs off the new album, they may hear some covers that we haven’t played before, and they may hear some of our classic songs that people will recognize. We want to make it a full, well-rounded show.
AH: What led to it being a two-set show?
MD: We typically play two-set shows, if it’s our own show.
AH: That’s pretty cool because livestream concerts tend to be far shorter.
MD: Being a string band, I’m sure there will be the same awkward tuning between songs, too. If we’re changing key, there will still be those little down moments between songs.
AH: That’s nostalgic at this point! Is The Wilma a venue that has a particular history with Roots music or Americana?
MD: The Wilma has been a long-time theater in Montana, for instance Yonder Mountain String Band would play there every single year. That was the first time I went to The Wilma. Montana, historically, hasn’t had a lot of touring acts come through, though that’s changed in recent years. The Wilma always has a great, energetic crowd too. Missoula is a college town and people there are very supportive.
AH: I noticed that in the imagery for the band, you seem to like psychedelic elements. Is that fair? I know you also use the term “Galaxy Grass” for the crazy, awesome hybrid combinations of music that you create and that makes me think of Psych Rock and Jam bands also.
MD: We all cut our teeth and were very interested in psychedelia and experimental Rock. Everyone in the band has very different backgrounds but they all go into the “weird” territory. I’m not an original member, but something that always drew me to the band was that they were a string band, with very earthy, natural, simple instruments, but they also liked to veer into this weird, experimental territory. One of our friends actually came up with the term “Galaxy Grass” and it stuck. I think everybody in the band embraces the experimental and the “see what happens” mentality, rather than having things be super-polished. I would say that psychedelia is definitely a big part of our band.
AH: That reminds me of what I’ve heard about how the band operates. I know that on the album Ghost in the Bottle, you worked with a number of guests and that was very experimental. But on Muir Maid, I know that you really focused on working together as a band so that each member contributed to the songwriting. Hearing that reminded me a little of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship and the early days of The Grateful Dead, which is of course psychedelic. It was an approach where all the members were equal and would contribute to songwriting.
MD: That’s correct. I know from talking with people in the past that we can be kind of frustrating to work with because we are so democratic. Everyone has a very equal say. If someone really doesn’t want to do something, we don’t do it, or you have to persuade that person to come around. Everyone shares different duties within the band. On Muir Maid, everyone had songs on the album, and we all worked on them together. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do The Band for the first Reheated because they were similar. Robbie Robertson would write a song and have somebody else sing it. That’s very much how we approach things, as a collective process, and we thought even more consciously about that on Muir Maid.
AH: Does that extend to the new music you’ve been working on?
MD: Yes, I’d say that’s even more so. Everybody brought songs to the table, but inevitably it gets “The Band” treatment.
AH: What would you like to say on behalf of The Kitchen Dwellers to people who will be watching the show at The Wilma on Saturday?
MD: Whoever is watching, I hope it is a reminder of what we can enjoy and celebrate about life. I hope that you enjoy yourself and have fun. Thank you for watching and supporting us as a band. When we come out of this, we want to see you in real life.
Pick up tickets to The Kitchen Dwellers at The Wilma right here.